2011 Acura MDX
Base price: $42,580 – $54,105
As tested: $54,965
MPG: 16 city/21 highway
- Reputation for quality, reliability
- Somewhat sporty, agile, inviting
- Excellent safety and technology features
- Starting to show its age, dated
- Small second and third row seats
- Hurt the pocketbook fuel economy
By Jim Prueter
MDX is good, but no longer the class leader
Acura first launched the MDX, a sibling of the Honda Pilot, mid-size sport-utility of the same corporate parent, in 2001. A second generation MDX rolled out in 2007 and was much more refined. Everything about it improved, including a more powerful, fuel efficient V-6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission.
Last year, designers freshened the sheet metal, tweaked the bold Acura signature design front grille (it’s still hideous, however) and added an advanced package that included 19-inch wheels and tires, and an active damping system that instantaneously adjusts the suspension according to road conditions.
For 2011 the Acura MDX remains unchanged.
Personally I’ve never been a huge fan of the MDX, which always seemed to me little more than a gussied-up Honda Pilot. But through personal observation and conversation, I’ve arrived at the opinion that women, especially women with children, love both the Pilot and the MDX.
I’m convinced it’s because of the anti-minivan movement by so many women who still have to move a carload of kids to and from school, dance lessons, little league and soccer practice and still have room for bags of groceries, dogs, packages and stuff from the office. They appreciate the quality and reliability that is associated with Honda/Acura. It’s a vehicle they trust.
I’ve driven and tested both the Honda Pilot and Acura MDX, and after several hundred miles behind the wheel of both, I get it. Both vehicles come off extremely well and stack up favorably against competition, competition that has been nothing short of an avalanche of new products. Toyota Highlander, Mazda CX-9, GMC Acadia, Hyundai Veracruz, Buick Enclave, Lincoln MKT and others seem worthy of comparison. All have three rows of seats and are similar in size, and really, there’s not a stinker in the bunch.
For 2011, MDX is offered in five trim levels starting with the base model and moving up through the Technology, Technology and Entertainment, Advance and Advance and Entertainment groupings. The Technology package adds premium leather trim, navigation, and a 410-watt audio system, while the Advance package adds to that a collision-detecting system that pre-charges the brakes, adaptive cruise control, blind spot information and an active damper system for the suspension. The Entertainment package, which is offered with either the Technology or Advance groups, includes a rear seat monitor, DVD player, wireless headphones and heated rear seats.
A 3.7-liter V-6 engine that produces 300 horsepower and is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that can be operated manually via steering-wheel paddle shifters powers MDX. There are no other engine or transmission choices; all five MDX trim levels come with a standard all-wheel drive system that Acura calls SH-AWDÒ, Super Handling All-Wheel Drive™.
SH-AWD is a full-time all-wheel-drive system that uses torque vectoring to actively distribute the optimum amount of power not only between the front and rear axles, but also between the left and right rear wheels. With torque vectoring (and by selectively overdriving one outside rear wheel while cornering), the yaw moment of the MDX can be controlled throughout a turn, which reduces understeer to greatly enhance handling precision and ultimate cornering ability.
But we weren’t impressed with ride quality, which felt unsettled. We felt every road expansion strip and imperfection through the steering wheel, with too much road noise filtering through the cabin. We even switched the suspension from sport to comfort via the console-mounted switch to see if that would change the ride experience, with little noticeable result.
And while we certainly appreciated the surprising power from the 300-horsepower V-6, our combined fuel economy was just 12.8 mpg in mostly city and suburban highway driving during our week in the MDX. That, combined with required premium gas, is a major disappointment and expense.
Inside, our MDX tester was very attractive and decidedly upscale with noticeable build quality, premium materials and attention to detail. Our top-of-the-line MDX Advance ENT model was trimmed in premium contoured Milano leather seats, with 10-way power adjustability for the driver, 8-way for the front seat passenger.
And while the interior is flush with leather, nicely finished metal trim and ample wood trim, it’s not at the same level as Audi, BMW, Lincoln, Lexus and Infiniti brands. But it’s a notch above competitors such as the Enclave, Acadia, CX-9 and Veracruz.
The MDX seats up to five adults and two children. The second row can seat three across; the third row, with helpful access thanks to a slide-and-enter feature, is best left for smaller children.
While, overall, the seats are very comfortable, one of the main problems with the MDX is the lack of second and third-row room. It’s a snug fit, especially if you’re trying to fit full-size convertible car seats for children.
All models come with front, side and side curtain airbags, daytime running lamps, electronic stability and traction control with rollover mitigation, and antilock braking.
A collision-avoidance system is optional. It uses radar to determine the location of a vehicle in front of the MDX and alerts the driver with sounds and lights if a collision may occur. If the driver disregards the warning, the system will tug at the driver's seat belt and lightly brake the MDX. If no action is taken and the system deems a collision inevitable, it will tighten the front seat belts and apply the brakes hard to lower the impact speed.
You must select the most expensive Advance Package to get both the collision-avoidance system and blind-spot monitoring.
An Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick in 2009, the MDX lost that title for 2010 because it did not undergo the organization's new roof-strength test. It does still get top overall scores of Good in the IIHS' front, side and rear crash tests.
All in all, the Acura MDX asserts itself as a capable, competitive and popular, if expensive, choice in this market segment. Most seem to find the looks attractive, but increased competition doesn’t put the MDX as the star of the class as it was just a few short years ago.